Defendants (criminal proceedings)


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Where will the trial be held?

The court that will hear your case will be either the Court of Magistrates or the Criminal Court depending principally on the gravity of the charges against you.

The trial will be public save a few exceptions where, for instance, the identity of the victim needs to be concealed.

If the case is heard by the Court of Magistrates, the presiding magistrate will decide the case. If on the other hand the case is heard by the Criminal Court, the case will be decided by the jury and, in case of a guilty verdict, the sentence will be delivered by the presiding judge.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

The charges may be changed when the case is heard by the Court of Magistrates. The prosecution can ask for the charges to be corrected if the evidence suggests that another charge is more appropriate or if there was a mistake in the original charge.Charges may also be withdrawn or substituted.

In cases before the Criminal Court, once you have pleaded guilty or not guilty, the accusations may be changed in limited circumstances with the condition that the charges don't become more serious than the original ones.

If you plead guilty to all the charges the Court will proceed to give judgement. If you plead guilty to some of the charges, unless the other charges are withdrawn by the Prosecution or are alternative charges, the Court will proceed with the trial.

What are my rights during the trial?

You must be present during all the stages of the trial.

If you live in another Member State it is not possible for you to participate by video link.

If you do not understand the Maltese language but are an English speaking person, the trial will be conducted in the English language. If you do not understand English, then the trial will be conducted in the Maltese language and an interpreter will be appointed to assist you.

You are free to conduct your own defence but generally the Courts will insist that you engage a lawyer to assist you. A lawyer will be allocated to you. If your lawyer is the duty advocate from legal aid then you cannot change your lawyer. If, however, you have engaged your own private lawyer, you can change him.

You are not obliged to speak during the trial and no inference can be drawn from your silence. If you however decide to take the witness stand you cannot refuse to answer incriminating questions relating to the charges brought against you.

Not telling the truth can seriously affect your credibility and, moreover, could lead to the offence of perjury.

What are my rights in relation to the evidence against me?

In general you can challenge evidence which is brought against you. If the evidence consists of witnesses, you may cross-examine them or bring your own witnesses to challenge their testimony. In case of documentary evidence you may cross examine the witness or expert producing it or bring your own witnesses to attack such evidence. You may not however bring your own expert evidence. Expert evidence may only be attacked by cross-examining the expert with regard to his findings or his expertise.

You can produce witnesses and documentary evidence in support of your defence.

If your trial is to be held before the Criminal Court, the law sets a time-limit which starts running from when you receive the bill of indictment in which you must indicate all the witnesses and other evidence that you intend to produce in your defence at the trial. No such restriction exists if your trial is held before the Court of Magistrates.

If you want to, you can use a private detective to obtain evidence. Evidence obtained by him is admissible as long as it is not excluded by the law.

Your lawyer may cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses and he may challenge what they say during the cross-examination.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

Information about your criminal record will be taken into account if a charge depends on a previous conviction such as relapsing or committing an offence during the operational period of a suspended sentence. Your criminal record may also be taken into account by the magistrate and judge when deciding the punishment you will receive in if you are convicted.

In the course of a trial before the Criminal Court, your criminal record may be taken into account if you try to establish your good character or attack the character of one of the prosecution's witnesses. The court may, in determining your punishment, take into account a final judgement delivered by a foreign court.

What happens at the end of the trial?

At the end of the trial you will be acquitted or convicted of the accusations brought against you. You may also be acquitted/convicted in part.

If convicted you may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. If the term of imprisonment does not exceed two years the Court may suspend its operation for a maximum period of four years. If the offence carries a punishment that does not exceed seven years imprisonment, the Court may also discharge you unconditionally or conditionally for a maximum period of three years. If you breach a condition imposed by the Court you will be brought before it and sentenced again.

The Court may also make a probation order whereby a probation officer will be assigned to monitor you. In certain cases the Court may also impose a financial penalty.

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

When the trial is held before the Criminal Court, the victim may be present during the proceedings and may make submissions on punishment.

Before the Court of Magistrates the victim may take on a more active role by assisting the prosecuting officer personally or through a lawyer.

Related links

Criminal Code

Last update: 04/05/2021

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